Raucous laughter reverberated through the orchestra and up into the balcony during the first of two stand-up shows that Dave Chappelle performed at uptown Charlotte’s Belk Theater on Thursday night, on the eve of NBA All-Star Weekend.
But now that those shows are over — now that the laughter has died down — something’s going to happen that Chappelle almost certainly could have predicted: Someone will read this article, and they’re going to hear what he said during the early show, and they’re going to get angry at him for it. Probably multiple someones.
And you know what? The 45-year-old comedian almost certainly couldn’t care less.
“I don’t believe ’em,” Chappelle growled midway through his performance.
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That is, he doesn’t believe the people who say they’re offended by his often racially- and sexually-charged brand of humor. In other words, “All the people that get mad on the internet all the time, I don’t believe you. The world would not function if everybody was that ---damn mad all the time. I have false outrage about your false outrage.”
It wasn’t so long ago — just a little more than a year, actually — that Chappelle was besieged by criticism for jokes about transgender men and women in the first pair of Netflix stand-up comedy specials he released in 2017 (“The Age of Spin” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas”) ... specials that went on to earn him a Grammy Award, mind you.
Though he seemed to try to atone in a subsequent Netflix special by reading during the show a letter from a transgender fan who scolded him for the jokes (see “Equanimity,” which scored him a Grammy and an Emmy), he never actually apologized.
On Thursday night in Charlotte, Chappelle dove headlong into the topic again, first by reemphasizing his belief that most of the anger only exists online.
In fact, he said even though people kept warning him that transgender people were rooting against him, that whenever he saw them on the street, “They’re just like, ‘Heyyyyyyyyy!’” he cat-called, flashing a flirty smile and putting a lot of wrist into a wave.
Then he launched into a story about his son Sulayman’s friendship with a transgender classmate who had opened up about it, and who had gained community support. This was around the time, Chappelle said, when many in the transgender community were angry at him and accusing him of being transphobic.
He said one day when he picked him up from school, he noticed he was in a bad mood. When he asked what was wrong, his son replied that he was tired of having to kowtow to and tiptoe around his friend — that it was getting on his nerves.
“And I’m like, ‘Yo, son,’ Chappelle took a long pause, before continuing: “‘They get on my nerves, too.’
“Just because (you’re trans) doesn’t make you right about every ---damn thing. You right about a lot of (expletive), but I mean ... just give these people their rights so I can say funny (expletive) again.”
The crowd roared. The sold-out crowd, members of which had bit, clawed and kicked their way through virtual lines — or paid hundreds of dollars over face value on the secondary market — to snap up every single ticket for the Valentine’s Night engagement within 24 hours after it was announced last week. (Blumenthal Performing Arts quickly added a second show for later in the evening, and those seats were gone just as fast. I wasn’t at the late show.)
Donnell Rawlings, a familiar face to anyone who’s seen Comedy Central’s old “Chappelle’s Show,” kicked things off with a very funny 28-minute warmup set that made light of everything from rapper Cardi B’s diction to the white male concertgoers he felt seemed unreasonably concerned about spilling their beers during the chaos of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
Then Chappelle walked on stage at 7:45 p.m. wearing white Nikes and what looked like an auto mechanic’s jumpsuit (emblazoned with his big trademark “C” on the right bicep and a smaller “Chappelle” over his left breast) as the house DJ cranked Pusha T’s “If You Know You Know.”
And for 56 minutes that seemed to fly by way too fast — save, perhaps, for the squirm-inducing 7-1/2 minutes he spent basically giving a blow-by-blow recap of the infamously gross Chuck Berry sex tape — he delivered a performance on par with the Netflix specials while chain-smoking his way through a pack of menthol cigarettes.
As is often the case with Chappelle, sometimes you don’t know where he’s headed with a story, but it almost always ends up in a funny place, whether he’s cracking wise about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide; the ironic similarities between the current heroin epidemic among “poor whites” and the crack epidemic that plagued the black community in the ’80; or the flap over the decade-old homophobic tweets that took fellow comedian Kevin Hart out of the running for the Oscars-hosting gig.
The consensus seemed to be that he was killing it. But to those who might be uncomfortable about any of Chappelle’s jokes, or who felt outright offended? Chappelle had a message for them, delivered as his final thoughts in the early show:
“If I ever get in trouble for the things I say, I’ll say it right now: I’m going to apologize,” he said.
“Just know: I’m not sorry.”
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes